Just some of the notes I made this weekend…

  • I’ve never led a column with an umpire comment, so I’ll put this first.
    The last play of Saturday night’s Padre/Dodger game saw one of the great
    displays of men-in-black hustle ever. D’Angelo Jimenez drove a ball
    to the warning track in right-center field. Shawn Green caught up to it,
    bobbled it, watched it bounce off the wall and back into his glove. Umpire
    Rob Drake made the correct call of "no catch," although the game
    ended seconds later when Jimenez was thrown out trying to stretch the play
    into a triple.

    The thing is, Drake didn’t make the call from 50 feet away, or from
    somewhere in short center field. Drake was right next to Green,
    having run about 200 feet in a dead sprint to be right on the ball. It was
    that hustle that enabled Drake to make the right call–had he been further
    away, Green’s body would have shielded him from seeing the ball hit the wall
    and there’s a good chance he would have missed the call.

    The play in itself was irrelevant. The performance by Drake, though,
    illustrated just how far we’ve come in the two years post-Richie Phillips.
    Confrontations are way down, plays like the one above are way up, and the
    overall level of umpiring is rising. I’ve had precious few nice things to
    say about Bud Selig, but his handling of the mass resignation of 1999, and
    the actions subsequent to it, was excellent. The game is better for them.

  • Memo to Brian Cashman: recreating the 1998 Braves shouldn’t be a primary
    goal right now:

                    ERA     IP     AVG   OBP   SLG   K/9   BB/9   K/BB
    Pitcher X      3.12   34.2    .255  .325  .387   8.6    3.1   2.75
    Pitcher Y      3.94   32.0    .286  .326  .452   5.9    2.0   3.00

    One of these pitchers has just been designated for assignment. The other was
    worth a B pitching prospect–a former million-dollar signee–in trade. Can
    you tell which is which?

    Of course, you can; I gave it away in the first blurb. The Yankees cut loose
    Brian Boehringer to make room for Mark Wohlers, who cost them
    Ricardo Aramboles. Wohlers is a nice comeback story, but he’s just
    another relief pitcher right now, no better or worse than a couple dozen
    other guys.

    If the Padres can pick up Boehringer, they will essentially have gotten
    D’Angelo Jimenez for free, because there’s just
    not any real difference between Boehringer and Jay Witasick.

    "Keith and Joe on the Bombers"…coming soon to a browser near you
    if this keeps up.

  • One of the big stories of the early part of the season was the surprise
    teams at the front of three divisions: the Twins in the AL Central, the
    Phillies in the NL East, and the Cubs in the NL Central. Each got off to a
    good start, but there was skepticism–OK, I was skeptical–that the
    three were for real, and expected each to fall off the pace and end up
    closer to .500 than glory.

    And sure enough, they all did begin to play down to expectations. But that’s
    not important. What’s important is that they all bounced back, and are now
    leading their divisions again. As good as the starts for all of these teams
    were, what’s been more impressive is the way they each recovered from their
    first tough stretch of the season:

    • The Twins lost eight of nine games in the middle of June, capped by
      losing two of three at Jacobs Field to fall out of first place. Since then,
      though, they’ve won six of seven, and have taken advantage of the Indians’
      stumble to re-establish a three-game lead in the AL Central.

    • The Phillies watched a six-game lead disappear in a span of two weeks, as
      they endured a 7-16 stretch that threatened to bury them. But after being
      swept by the Braves at home last week, they rebounded to sweep a five-game
      series from the once-surging Florida Marlins, and are back in the lead in
      the NL East.

    • The Cubs lost eight straight games in mid-May, sparking fears that the
      June swoon had arrived a few weeks early. But then they won their next 12
      games, and have held serve since then, going 13-13 and hanging on to first
      place in the NL Central (helped, in part, by the underachieving Astros and

    A surprise team in May is a nice story. A surprise team in July is a
    contender. These three have all proven that they’re not going away, and will
    be forcing the nominal favorites in their divisions to take them seriously
    throughout the second half.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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